Refugee Resettlement had been going on in Hagerstown, MD for a few years before it registered on most peoples’ radar screens. Its a relatively small program run by the Virginia Council of Churches (VCC) as a subcontractor to Church World Services. You can learn more about it in our Fact sheet (above).
An incident occured in the fall of 2006 when a refugee child of about 12 years of age was found knocking on doors in a pretty bad neighborhood looking for help for a very sick mother. The authorities were baffled when they didn’t know where this African child came from or understand what the child said. When the child’s apartment was finally located, emergency responders discovered some extremely sick people, but since no one knew who they were or where they were from, and most importantly what they might have, a panic ensued and the street was closed, a Hazmat team called in.
It was an embarrassment for Virginia Council of Churches and the Maryland Office for New Americans who wisely decided they needed to coordinate better with local agencies, thus the monthly meetings. Most of us, including elected officials, were not aware of the meetings until recently.
But, the controversy didn’t end with the Hazmat incident. A few months ago the local VCC representative made appeals to the Hagerstown City Mayor and Council and to the Washington County Commissioners for $25,000 and $15,000 respectively to help run the refugee program.
Washington County is a very conservative (red in a blue state!) county. Irate citizens bombarded the local governments and the Hagerstown Herald Mail with complaints about spending local tax dollars for a federal program.
To make a long story short, the Refugee Resettlement program is suspended here through the remainder of the fiscal year and VCC will not be participating in the “Bulge” (Post below) here in western Maryland.
Also, at today’s meeting it was determined that there should be a Public Forum, tentatively scheduled for September, at which local citizens can learn details of the Refugee Resettlement program, how it works, who pays for everything, and how the community could be impacted.
This is the kind of thing that all of you should be insisting on in your cities and towns—open public meetings to discuss the impact of immigrants on your community. Everyone is entitled to all the facts because only with facts can citizens truly participate in the democratic process.